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Hallux Rigidus: Unbending Toes

Imagine trying to bend a rusted hinge. The corroding metal grinds together and sticks instead of gliding smoothly, making it hard to move. Your joints can stick like that, too, decreasing your mobility and causing you pain. In your toes, this can create problems like hallux rigidus.

“Rusty” Big Toe

Joints affected by arthritis grind together, becoming stiffer and stiffer with time. Hallux rigidus is the breakdown and stiffening of the first joint of the big toe. The more the condition progresses, the more difficult it is to bend and use your toe—without which it is difficult to walk normally. The damage can also cause a bone spur to grow out of the joint, further restricting your movement.

This causes pain when you try to push off the ground or otherwise use the affected big toe. Often the area around the joint swells. You may notice a bump from a spur developing like a callus on the top of your foot, or like a bunion on the side. The condition is progressive, so your joint degenerates with time, especially if you do not treat the problem.

Usually the general wear and tear over time grinds down the protective layers in the toe joint. Biomechanical issues that increase the pressure on the big toe contribute to the problem. Fallen arches, excessive overpronation, and extra-long metatarsal bones all change the way the foot functions and can increase the strain on the big toe. Traumatic injuries to the foot can breakdown the protective joint layers as well.

Relieving Arthritis Pain

Like other progressive conditions, the sooner you treat hallux rigidus, the easier it is to manage your pain. If you wait until you can hardly walk or spurs develop, restoring your joint function will be very difficult. Dr. Noah Levine will need to examine your toe carefully. Our expert staff will test your range of motion and may request X-rays or other diagnostic images to see the extent of the damage. Then we can begin managing your condition.

You will need to decrease the swelling and inflammation in your toe to relieve pain. Icing the joint can help. We may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications. You will most likely need to make shoe adjustments so that you’re putting less strain on your big toe. Look for models with sufficient arch support to stabilize your feet. A stiff or rocker-bottom sole won’t allow much bending at the joint, restricting some of the movement that aggravates the problem. Custom orthotics may also help by providing some of the stiffness and biomechanical correction you need.

If these conservative methods are ineffective, you may need more aggressive or invasive therapies. Direct injections of medication can help decrease the irritation and swelling in your joint. If the problem continues to worsen, you may need surgery to relieve the pain and manage the damage. Procedures may excise bone spurs and portions of the joint to allow for easier movement; replace the joint altogether, especially for older patients; or fuse the bones together in severe cases.

If you’re struggling with a stiff big toe that makes it hard to walk around, you may have hallux rigidus. This can painfully restrict your mobility and independence. Don’t wait until your arthritis progresses to the point that surgery is your only option for recovery. Contact Absolute Foot Care Specialists in Las Vegas for more information or an appointment to take care of your big toe. Call (702) 839-2010 or use our website request form.